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Paul Pogba Facing Four-Year Ban For Failing Doping Test

Paul Pogba of Juventus FC looks on during the Serie A Tim match between Empoli FC and Juventus FC at Stadio Carlo Castellani on September 3, 2023 in Empoli, Italy.
Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba has been provisionally suspended by the Italian anti-doping agency for testing positive for testosterone following his club's August 20th match against Udinese. The suspension is pending testing of an additional back-up sample and a trial, but the French international is facing a four-year ban at maximum if the results are upheld.

Following the news from the anti-doping agency, Nado Italia, Juventus released a statement acknowledging the "precautionary" suspension, but not saying much beyond reserving "the right to consider next procedural steps" with regards to Pogba, who returned to the Italian side in the summer of 2022 after a six-year stint at Manchester United. Pogba's representative Rafaela Pimenta told Sky Sports that the player "never wanted to break the rules," and that they are waiting on the testing of the back-up sample before commenting further.

If the so-called "B" sample also turns up a positive result for testosterone, Pogba could reportedly help lower the ban by cooperating with Nado Italia. He also has the possibility of appeal, likely using the contamination defense that helped Atalanta center back José Luis Palomino get his own ban overturned in 2022. The Argentine was suspended for four months after a summer test came back with a positive result for steroids, but his ban was overturned in November of that year after he successfully argued that there was an "accidential contamination" of his results. If successful, Pogba could see his suspension overturned, but he will still miss a big portion of this season as this all gets sorted out.

It's safe to say that Pogba's career hasn't gone the way he or anyone who was a fan of his talent wanted it to. After an initial successful stint with Juventus in the first half of last decade, one that also included a trip to the 2016 Euro final with France, the young midfield star moved back to Manchester United, his youth career club, for a then-record €105 million fee. His time at United was more down than up, as injuries and simmering feuds with managers kept his playing time lower than a player of his caliber would have expected to see. He still had the talent, of course; he was France's best midfielder in the 2018 World Cup winning side, and his 2018-2019 season was a glimpse into the player United had purchased, particularly after manager Jose Mourinho was fired and replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

Still, though, Pogba's career has been a disappointment since his departure from Juventus in the summer of 2016, and now he could be facing the end of his time as a top player, or at least a player for top European clubs. If the ban is upheld, Pogba will miss a considerable chunk of his late prime; if it does become a four-year ban, he would be 34 at its end, and with his history of injuries, that could very well be the end. Even if it is reduced to, say, two years, that's two years away from top flight soccer for a player that would be 32-years-old upon his return. Will Juventus still want him then? The club is known for getting the most out of aging players, but Pogba hasn't shown much to warrant that on-field faith. In fact, the Udinese match, after which he tested positive, saw Pogba remain on the bench as an unused substitute, a fitting spot for him at this point.

The bigger question might be whether Pogba himself will want to return from this ban regardless of its length. Al-Jazeera published an interview with the player on Sunday, just one day before the suspension was announced, in which he called soccer "cruel," and said he thought about stepping away from soccer following an extortion attempt that allegedly involved his own brother:

"Money changes people. … It can break up a family. It can create a war. Sometimes I was just by myself thinking, ‘I don’t want to have money anymore. I just don’t want to play anymore. I just want to be with normal people, so they will love me for me – not for the fame, not for the money.’ Sometimes it’s tough."

While he returned to soccer following that scandal, it's possible that he will call it a career if he receives the maximum ban from Nado Italia. (He could also cash in on his name recognition and take a deal with a Saudi Arabian club, which we saw plenty of players do this past summer. Pogba hasn't given any indication that is something on his mind, nor have there been reports to that end. But the ban could change that.)

Really, though, this is an ominous development in a career that never reached the heights that were promised. Even if the ban is completely overturned, as in the case of Palomino, this affair is just one more sad situation in a career full of them. Since his return to Juventus, Pogba played only 203 total minutes in over a year, as his re-debut season was hampered by a meniscus injury, a muscle injury, and a disciplinary action after he showed up late to a team dinner. Even before the doping suspension, it was rather clear that he does not feature in manager Massimiliano Allegri's plans for the Italian giants. Whether he returns to the club or not, Pogba's time in the soccer sun appears to be setting in ignominious fashion.

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